GoAbroad Interview

Ashley Lulling - Program Coordinator

Ashley Lulling - Program Coordinator

After earning a master's degree in diplomacy and international relations, Ashley taught English at a high school in Daejeon, South Korea for one year. Shortly after returning to the U.S. in 2014, she joined InterExchange as a program coordinator for their Work Abroad programs and the InterExchange Foundation.

How did your own experience teaching in South Korea inspire you to join the InterExchange team?

It was one of the most meaningful professional and personal experiences of my life. I’ve always valued diversity and been interested in other cultures, and after a year living and teaching in South Korea, working alongside Korean teachers and connecting with Korean students, I came away with an understanding of the culture that no book, film, or tourist trip could provide.

The enriching connections I forged cemented my desire to dedicate my career to cross-cultural understanding, which aligns with InterExchange’s mission.

Foreign teacher in South Korea with students on Halloween
In the hallway on Halloween with students Ye-Won and Jeong-Mo

What does a typical day of work look like for you?

I coordinate nine teach abroad programs, so everyday I advise potential applicants, review applications, coordinate placements with our international partners, and prepare participants to go overseas. I also collaborate with our marketing department on program promotion, contribute blog content for our website, and administer the InterExchange Foundation grants.

You earned your master’s in international relations and diplomacy. How do you think international programs help promote peace and cross-cultural understanding?

The study of international relations and diplomacy, the theoretical paradigms and history, has value, but true understanding only comes through the cultivation of relationships. I gained insight into Korean culture through time spent talking to my students, sharing tangerines with my Korean colleagues, and drinking tea with my landlord and his family. I can never think of South Korea or Korean culture without thinking of Mee-rae, Sun-woo, Jun-Su (aka Vladimir), Eunha, Minha, Jeong-Ju, and so many of my other wonderful students, as well as my caring boss Young-Hee and Mr. Park, my kind landlord. They all had a profound impact on me and taught me more than I could possibly teach them.

I do know I helped change at least one student’s impression of foreign teachers, though. Minha, one of my most shy and introverted students, wrote an essay about how I changed her perspective on foreign teachers, which her instructor shared with me. Writing that she always had trouble with foreign teachers because they interpreted her shyness for insolence, she wrote that I was different: “Ashley is a person who tried to understand me sincerely.” This is just one student, but I beamed upon reading this, as I truly did try to connect and understand all my students and at least one felt this. International programs provide participants with the space and time to develop people-to-people ties, such as this.

Korean students with a birthday cake
My students gave me a cake at the end of the semester (they're shielding candles).

How do InterExchange’s Work Abroad programs promote cultural immersion?

Our programs place participants in work or volunteer positions alongside locals and many entail living with a host family. Programs that don’t involve host family accommodation, such as our Teach English opportunity in Thailand, still place participants in local-style housing in communities close to their work or volunteer assignment. As a result, individuals gain insight into the daily life of their host culture.

What makes InterExchange unique?

We pride ourselves on providing personalized advising and are sincerely interested in helping individuals find the best program that fits their goals and interests. We have no qualms about recommending non-InterExchange programs that we think will better satisfy an individual’s goals.

In addition, everyone here has worked or lived abroad, so we can relate to the excitement and anxiety that comes with embarking on such sojourns. This experience helps us connect and relate to potential applicants and participants.

Tell us more about the InterExchange Foundation.

The Foundation was established in 2007 to provide financial support to motivated young Americans working and volunteering beyond their borders. We offer three funding opportunities: 

Daejeon Foreign Language High School in South Korea
The Daejeon Foreign Language High School sign, where I taught for one year

1. The Christianson Grant, named after InterExchange founders Uta and Paul Christianson, provides up to $10,000 in funding to individuals who arrange their own service project abroad. The breadth of projects is inspiring, from refugee rights in Cyprus and teaching percussion drums in Zambia to helping rural farmers in Tanzania access crop data and urban markets. We’ve funded over 70 ambitious, curious, young people committed to service and cross-cultural understanding. Grantees reflect on their cultural and personal growth in the form of blogs and a completion report, which we share on our website.

2. The Community Impact Grant helps participants on our work abroad programs improve or design a project that will positively impact their host communities. Whether it’s creating an English library in their school or cleaning a local river, the grant allows motivated participants to go beyond their work or volunteer assignment to make an additional contribution to their host community.

3. Participants who complete one of our working abroad programs have the opportunity to receive our Working Abroad Alumni Grant. Recipients spread the word about cultural exchange in their local U.S. communities through presentations about their program abroad.

Since the foundation’s inception, we’ve awarded over half a million dollars!

Why do you enjoy working for InterExchange?

I love helping potential applicants and participants and collaborating with our overseas partners to shape meaningful and supportive programs. In addition, my colleagues are well-traveled, intelligent, and excited about cultural exchange; conversations here are never dull! In addition, there’s a collegial, laid-back atmosphere that I appreciate.

If you could participate in any InterExchange program, which one would you choose and why?

It’s hard to choose just one! If I must, though, I’d pick our School Teaching Assistant in Spain program. I’ve never been to Spain or lived with a host family (participants stay with families on this program) and I love teaching.